Students practice with their instruments before taking an arts exam for their desired universities in Wuhu, Anhui province, in January.[Photo/Xinhua]
Number recruited should not exceed one percent of the annual admissions
The change in the preferential policy for students with talent in arts will help universities select those with better artistic capabilities, a teacher and a recruiting official said.
“After the change, the policy only benefits students with real arts capabilities. Those who learn instruments just for a year or two can hardly get what they want through the policy,” said Li Fang, a violin teacher in the symphony orchestra at the High School Affiliated to Renmin University of China in Beijing.
Li has more than 20 years of experience helping students prepare for university art tests.
The Ministry of Education started a comprehensive policy reform in 2013 affecting the gaokao, or the national college entrance exam, as well as university recruitment.
Before the revision, there had been a “fast track” for Chinese students with arts talent to get into some of the top universities in China: becoming members of these universities’ arts troupe.
According to previous policies, talented students who passed tests and interviews for universities’ art troupes could be admitted with a lower threshold－30 to 60 points lower than the minimum admission gaokao score.
Through the policy, many prestigious universities including Peking University and Tsinghua University were able to enroll students with good abilities in music, dance and drama.
But the policy was criticized by some people for allowing a “gray zone” for ineligible students to be recruited through the back door, leading to unequal access to prestigious universities.
The policy was also criticized for making the learning of arts test-oriented, as some students with little interest in arts took advantage of the policy, attempting to gain admission to top universities through intensified arts training of only a few months.
Things started to change after the policy revision was introduced. According to the new regulations, only 53 universities across the country are able to recruit talented students through the university arts troupe, and the number recruited in this way should not exceed one percent of the total number of students the university plans to recruit each year.
A recruiting official at a good university in Beijing, who preferred not to be named, believed the policy revision was introduced for a good cause and would benefit those with real passion and abilities in arts.
“The policy change poses greater challenges to students who choose the path, leaving less room for free riders,” he said. “The most significant thing is that students can now enjoy and get the most out of the learning process. We expect those who devoted themselves to practice for years can benefit from the change.”
The change is frightening away some students.
Liu Huiran, from Hohhot, capital of Inner Mongolia, said she just treated the admission through arts troupes as an extra opportunity for university recruitment.
The 18-year-old, who has learned bassoon for two years and has just finished an arts troupe test with Peking University, said she knew that it might be impossible for her to compete with well-trained students from big cities, especially under a rising bar.
“If I fail, I will go back to prepare for gaokao just like my peers who don’t have the opportunity,” Liu said.
The change in the policy also brought pressure to some that have been preparing for a long time.
Yang Yanbei, a 17-year-old student from Beijing, said it seemed that the policy change made it more difficult for him to gain admission to dream universities, as the “standards in every university’s admissions seem to be higher than before”.
Yang has practiced the violin for 10 years and has just finished an arts troupe test with Peking University. “I’m pretty worried about the results,” he said.
Yang said getting into a prestigious university through arts talent is by no means the fast track that some people think it is. It’s as difficult as gaining admission through normal gaokao, because the candidates have to live through years of painstaking practice.
“Take me as an example, apart from five hours of orchestral rehearsal each week, I have to practice for at least eight hours a week during school days,” he said.
Higher education for arts students
There are generally four ways for arts-talented students in China to gain a higher education:
The bonus-point policy
Previously, students with talent in the arts, including music, dancing, drama and painting could get several bonus points in the gaokao, the national college entrance exam. The number of points varied across provinces. But the Ministry of Education canceled the bonus-point policy in 2014 as one of the measures to bring fairness and transparency to the gaokao.
High-level arts troupes at prestigious universities may recruit arts-talented students who pass tests and interviews with the troupes, assuming a gaokao result 20 points lower than the threshold set for students without arts talent. Students recruited in this way are allowed to choose nonartistic majors, but they are obliged to join the university’s arts troupe after enrollment and are requested to take part in arts activities on campus.
A student with arts talent takes tests at the desired art college or university between December and January. Admission depends on the test results and on their gaokao scores. Students recruited in this way will focus on the study of the art specialty of choice and become a professional in the arts after graduation. Top colleges for the arts in China include the Central Academy of Drama, Central Academy of Fine Art and Central Conservatory of Music. The number of students attempting to gain higher education this way in China has reached 1 million in recent years.
Students would normally be required to hand in portfolios of their work and complete interviews. More Chinese students with art talent are considering this option.